Roman Holiday: Lithuania capital turns Italian as virus stops travel

VILNIUS (AFP) – With virus travel restrictions preventing summer holidays abroad, Lithuania’s capital is offering a low-cost alternative by mimicking the look and feel of different countries at weekends.

France, Japan and the United States (US) are among the more than half-a-dozen nations that Vilnius residents can get a taste of without leaving the Baltic city.

Last weekend Italian music filled the Old Town, while local restaurants offered Mediterranean dishes as green, white and red flags fluttered nearby.

Aurelija Baniulaitiene, a Lithuanian civil servant who came with a friend to an open-air restaurant, said the southern European atmosphere helped her “leave the lockdown cocoon”.

In the weeks to come, the theme will change to India, the US, France, Spain, Germany and Japan.

Visitors check out the legendary Italian Vespa scooters and Italian Alfa Romeo cars at Town Hall Square in Vilnius. PHOTO: AFP

Rasa Kliostoraityte, a translator who presented three books by contemporary Italian writers as part of the initiative, hoped it would allow “people to enjoy the Italian spirit without leaving the city”.

Her husband, Italian-born singer Mario Di Pasquale, had mixed feelings before taking his guitar to the stage near the 17th Century St John’s Church bell tower that dominates the city’s skyline.

“I had to think if it is fine to celebrate Italy now, when it is suffering so much pain,” the 44-year-old told AFP.

“I have not forgotten the victims for a moment and I pay my respect with my songs. Italians themselves started singing folk songs from balconies when the outbreak started,” he added.

A short walk away, in a former Jewish neighbourhood, jeans designer Milda Paukste used pieces of denim to stitch an outline of the Italian peninsula on a sheet laid out in the street.

“On top of it, I put everything Italian that I found at home, from spaghetti to a Versace perfume and a cup of espresso. I see it as a creative way to educate people,” said Paukste, 35.